Perhaps due to the economic downturn and the subsequent impact on the construction industry, more and more Florida builders are working without benefit of a contractor’s license. Nearly all construction contractors who perform any type of work in the state of Florida, must be licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and, in some cases, by counties and municipalities as well. Prior Florida laws required only that a contractor be licensed at the time he or she began working on the project, however in 2000, the Florida Legislature changed the laws associated with contracting, imposing stricter licensing requirements. The new laws state that a contractor who enters into a contract without proper licensing, forfeits the right to enforce that contract; this means a contractor could fully perform all required obligations under the contract, yet receive no pay at all if there was no licensing in place at the time the contract was signed.
Further Penalties Associated With Charges of Unlicensed Contracting
As per Florida Statute 489.127, a first-time conviction for unlicensed contracting is a misdemeanor. The conviction carries penalties of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Second, or subsequent convictions for unlicensed contracting may be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $5,000. The contractor may also be forced to pay the costs of the investigation as well as all attorney fees. Restitution may also be ordered by the courts in cases where the alleged victim claims the contractor performed sub-standard work or used sub-standard materials which resulted in loss to the homeowner. Restitution could conceivably run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and failure to pay the restitution as ordered could result in contempt of court charges. A contractor charged with unlicensed contracting during a time when the governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency could face third-degree felony charges, even for a first offense.
Potential Defenses to Charges of Contracting Without a License
The lawyers of Finebloom and Haenel might be able to utilize multiple defenses on your behalf in order to contest your charges of contracting without a license. Some of these defenses include:
- If the charges against you are that you falsely held yourself out to be a licensed contractor, then there likely exists a factual dispute regarding what representations were actually made to the homeowner. Your attorney may be able to dispute whether you actually acted in a contracting role, particularly if the alleged “contracting” was limited in scope.
- While it may sound simple, the prosecutor may actually not know how to prove you are, in fact, unlicensed. Your attorney may be able to make evidentiary objections which prevent the State from proving every element of the offense.
- Your attorney may be able to show that you fall under one of the numerous exemptions provided in Chapter 489 where an individual or business entity is not required to have a contracting license. As an example, an unlicensed contractor may not be required to be licensed when the owners of property acted as their own contractor, and provided direct onsite supervision over all work not performed by licensed contractors.
The Ways Your Attorney May Minimize the Effects of Charges for Unlicensed Contracting
Of course the outcome of your case will depend on a variety of factors, such as whether you have a prior criminal history, the amount of money involved and your ability to make restitution. It is extremely important that you speak to an experienced unlicensed contracting attorney from the firm of Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins as soon as you have been charged with contracting without a license. Our attorneys are very knowledgeable regarding Florida laws pertaining to unlicensed contracting and will first examine the specific nature of the work performed. We will work hard to provide evidence which casts you in a more positive light in the courtroom, or may be able to negotiate a “withholding of adjudication,” which would allow you to truthfully state you were not convicted of contracting without a license.
Following this particular resolution, you may have a period of probation in which you must make restitution. We may also be able to petition the court to expunge all the records related to your unlicensed contracting arrest, so that the charges do not follow you, causing problems in work and your future. An unlicensed contracting lawyer will discuss the details of your case thoroughly, then determine the best way to proceed. We will fight aggressively on your behalf, and will use our extensive experience to build a solid defense for you.
Section 489.127, Florida Statutes, provides for the following:
- No person shall:
(a) Falsely hold himself or herself or a business organization out as a licensee, certificate holder, or registrant;
(b) Falsely impersonate a certificate holder or registrant;
(c) Present as his or her own the certificate or registration of another;
(d) Knowingly give false or forged evidence to the board or a member thereof;
(e) Use or attempt to use a certificate or registration that has been suspended or revoked;
(f) Engage in the business or act in the capacity of a contractor or advertise himself or herself or a business organization as available to engage in the business or act in the capacity of a contractor without being duly registered or certified;
(g) Operate a business organization engaged in contracting after 60 days following the termination of its only qualifying agent without designating another primary qualifying agent, except as provided in ss. 489.119 and 489.1195;
(h) Commence or perform work for which a building permit is required pursuant to part IV of chapter 553 without such building permit being in effect; or
(i) Willfully or deliberately disregard or violate any municipal or county ordinance relating to uncertified or unregistered contractors.
Call us today if you have been charged with Unlicensed Contracting – 1-888-781-9696.